Benji Marshall will end his Test exile this week.
Benji Marshall will end his Test exile this week.

Marshall set to end Kiwis exile against Tonga

Benji Marshall has been given the all-clear to make a fairytale return for New Zealand against Tonga, linking for just the second in his career with Shaun Johnson.

Coach Michael Maguire all-but confirmed the high-profile pairing would start Saturday's Test in Auckland, with Kieran Foran or Jahrome Hughes shaping as candidates to play a utility bench role.

The Marshall-Johnson axis has been seen only once before, in the 2012 Anzac Test loss to Australia at Eden Park, when Johnson made his Kiwis debut.

Even though he was captain, Marshall was dropped the following year by Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney allowing Johnson and Foran to lock down the playmaking berths for several years.

An international flame continued to burn for 34-year-old Marshall, whose mature form under Maguire at Wests Tigers has earned him a recall.

A starting berth became a reality when Warriors five-eighth Kodi Nikorima (groin injury) was among a group of players trimmed from the Kiwis extended squad on Sunday night.

"About a week ago I spoke to Benji about the fact that he's a potential (starter). In the last couple of days I spoke to him about the fact that he's going to be playing," Maguire said.

"Benji's changed his game a little bit over the last 12 months I guess. He's been really able to learn how to direct a game and follow plans.

"He's at a higher level now, so I think Shaun will be able to play off the back of that." Maguire said Marshall was "blown away" when contacted, with the pair having previously joked about the prospect of a Kiwis recall whenever the subject arose between them on club duty.

Marshall would be a key leader against the imposing Tongans but Maguire said he never considered relieving Dallin Watene-Zelezniak of the captaincy.

Watene-Zeleziak is expected to be cleared to start despite being forced from the field in his debut for the Bulldogs in their loss to Sydney Roosters on Sunday.

The versatile back passed an HIA assessment and Maguire expects a big game from the 23-year-old, who didn't play for four weeks after being granted a release by Penrith.

"He's faced a bit of adversity over the last month but I think now that he's settled and back playing footy again it was great to see him running around," Maguire said.

News Corp Australia


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